The first time I was interviewed for a “bike to work” story a little over a decade ago, I gave my story – I’ve biked to work since the 1980s, through all weather, and my rides to work are overwhelmingly pleasant and without incident. He asked about any accidents. With 20 years of biking, I’ve had my share, and I naively shared the details.
The story that was published in the Longmont Times-Call a couple of days later was not what I expected. It portrayed me as a freakish athletic daredevil who battles constantly and valiantly against aggressive road raging maniacs. The story was not an accurate reflection of my normal commute.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a failure of communication on my part. The journalist is a nice enough kid, but, like most Americans, he suffers from the windshield perspective of the dominate culture.
I’ve since learned the importance of sticking to the message you want to tell. If you’d like to portray bicycling as a high risk activity suitable for adrenaline junkies, by all means talk up your close calls and your aggressive riding style. If the journalist already views something as mundane as cycling as a high risk endeavor full of excitement and danger, then you’ve reinforced his preconceptions and will latch on to those stories.
There’s a time and a place for advocacy stories that highlight the need to improve cycling safety. If you’d like to encourage people to ride a bike, however, consider redirecting the journalist’s questions about your accidents. If you’ve never crashed into a car, say so and explain that accidents are not an inevitable part of riding a bike. Mention that defensive driving applies as much to cyclists as it does to those inside of a car. If feel really wonky, explain the risk of death or serious injury while cycling is at the same order of magnitude as that from being in a car, and that the increased risk is more than offset by the reduced chances for death by lifestyle diseases (e.g. obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression, heart disease). We do have uncontrollable risks, but most of them can be mitigated by the cyclist. After a few minutes of this, the journalist will lose interest and move on to find a real human interest story beyond the “boy bites dog” story he’s raking the muck for.
That’s what I love about this story from last weekend in the Santa Cruz Sentinel by Jondi Gumz. Jondi rides a bike around Santa Cruz and gets it as she describes how the entire staff at Mission Hill Dental Care now rides their bikes to work after Dr Flavio Cheng decided to get biking a shot on a Bike to Work Day.
Cheng, 40, tried to exercise once or twice a week, which he considered “good but not great.”
So when he saw a notice for Bike to Work Day in May, offering a free breakfast, he gave it a try, bicycling from his home in Pleasure Point to his office, Mission Hill Dental Care at 615 Mission St.
“I did it and then I never stopped,” Cheng said. “I’ve been coming to work early. You feel good when you come in, you’ve had exercise.”
He thought about traffic on Mission Street and how the parking lot for his new office was a tight squeeze. Could he persuade his staff of four to bicycle to work, too?
The short answer is “Yes” — with free bikes for his staff and financial incentives, Cheng’s entire staff all ride bikes to the office at least part of the time and part of the way, including his dental assistant who drives part of the way from Watsonville and parks at a co-workers house, where they ride the rest of the way to the office together.